The breath as the vehicle to restore balance and shift our state of mind.

A complete Yogic breath has four main components : it begins with the exhale by gradually drawing the lower abdomen in, following the ascent of the diaphragm, the chest lowers and at the end of the exhale there is a slight contraction of the abdomen followed by a pause. Then the inhale comes into the chest-as the lungs expand, the diaphragm descends into the softly expanding belly, the belly moves outward and then there is a slight pause. And the cycle continues.  The more effective the exhale technique is, the more expansive the inhale becomes, for as you relax through the calming exhale, the inhale will naturally become more profound. As a result, you develop parasympathetic tone from consciously lengthening the exhale.  In other words… you relax, you feel calm, and focused.

Keep in mind this will be a new pattern for many of you, and it will take time to develop.  Begin by simply focusing on relaxing the abdomen and lengthening the exhale.  As this new pattern becomes apart of you, then begin to add more precision with the expansion and contraction of the torso.  Recently, one of my teachers, Chase Bossart (, began queuing the breath with: “lead with your chest on your inhale, lead with your belly on your exhale.”  In order for this to happen, the belly must be supple and therefore is often the main focus of how breathing is cued. A complete breath will emphasize both the upper and lower part of your torso, and in turn every cell of your body. This has been a helpful mantra for me during my own practice and as you can see in the image below, is exactly what our body wants to do.   Essentially, we are returning to relaxed diaphragmatic breathing.  Newborn babies are great teachers of relaxed diaphragmatic breathing for they have not learned how to get in their own way yet. 🙂  Notice how their belly gradually expands completely on the inhale and the belly descends completely on the exhale.  Now, as adults it takes time to relax the abdomen, but once you are able to do this then you are able to consciously expand and lengthen the breath with precision, something a baby is not able to do.  🙂
breathing-with-the-diaphragmThe most amazing part about breathing is that it is the vehicle to access our Autonomic Nervous System; which influences EVERYTHING.  The more you can get out of the way and be fully present with the breath, the more you will relax and the more it will expand.  Our exhale is directly linked to our parasympathetic (relax and digest) tone, while our inhale is linked to our sympathetic (fight or flight) tone.  Therefore, when you practice this type of breathing you are toning your nervous system.  In turn, you are bringing balance to your ENTIRE system and being.

In Yoga there are many tools to influence our state, but the breath is by far the most profound tool, for not only does it restore your entire system, but it also cleanses your perceptual lens aka the mind-body so that you are able to focus, receive, meditate, and make positive decisions.  Refinement of breathing takes time and requires both a qualified teacher and an element of surrender.  If you can sustain a long smooth breath during your yoga āsana/posture practice you will notice that your movements slow down and therefore your mind settles. Keep in mind there are many variations of conscious breathing practices, depending upon your desired outcome.  It is best to first develop a consciously relaxed diaphragmatic breath, and if you are curious about other techniques you can come visit me at Jackson Hole Yoga Therapy and learn more.

But enough with trying to convince you through your cognitive mind, lets do some practice shall we?

1.) Lay down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat

2.) Place your hands on your lower abdomen with your elbows and shoulders relaxed.

3.) Close your eyes and observe your breath as it is

4.) Exhale gradually draw in your lower abdomen

5.) Pause slightly

6.) Inhale let your chest and belly expand

7.) Pause ever so slightly

8.) Repeat 4-7

The up side of sick

There is no doubt that getting sick, sucks.  Over the weekend,  I came under attack by a serious cold bug.

ON top of that, my monthly lady cycle, my husband is out of town, and I am a mother of a two year old.

Oh shit.  yes, that is what I was thinking.  This sucks.

But, as I lay myself down to sleep, I felt the flood of resistance to what was happening take over me.  My body tightened, negative thoughts echoed, and I felt even worst.

THEN… I took a nice long exhale. And closed my eyes and just breathed.

“You must surrender”, a voice from the depths whispered.

Sometimes all you can do is breathe.  And for the next two days, that is all I did. This not only kept my sinus’ clear, but it kept me calm.  My son took epic afternoon naps, I followed his lead.  WE ate soup.  We called to herbal reinforcements from chinese herbs, to Be well dragon lady tea, to Kick-it wish garden tinctures. We read books.  WE watched TV.  We just rested.

Rest.  Something I often forget to practice.  And it is a practice in our world.  A practice our system values greatly.

This experience is and has brought me to think about people living with chronic illness and pain.  It sucks, and even worst Doctors are telling you it will not go away.  As I laid on my bed, I  thought about the one advantage of being ill is that it is a real opportunity to surrender into the shadows of life.  The aspects of life we all hide from.  The vulnerability of the body, death, negativity, anger, sadness and all we chose to not admit we experience.  Being ill brings all of this to the front, and it is an opportunity to honor it for what it is, and then surrender.  SURRENDER and respond to what is.  Surrender does not mean give up, but give in to the situation at hand.  And as you surrender and cease the resistance, you are able to respond with clarity because the mind is not caught up in the resistance of the illness.   As I surrendered, I felt my breath open up, I was able to fall asleep.  I did not feel so isolated.  I felt supported by my Self.  I heard this voice within and felt mySelf more deeply, as I found compassion for my Self.

There is something else that is unchanging, and it is the surrendering that softens the mind to feel and listen to this unchanging place of support and wisdom within.  In yoga, it is called puruṣa, or the dweller in the city.  And we all have a dweller within, whom is always speaking through us, it just depends if we are listening to it or not.  The more I softened with my breath, the more clearly I could hear the voice whisper words of  support and love. The voice will rise up like a whisper, or sometimes it will shout through a bull horn. But it is in the surrendering to what is, that allows for the voice to be heard.

And I must say, this surrendering actually helped me kick this colds ass, because I was able to nourish myself completely without the negative feedback that comes from resisting what is.

So next time you get fall ill, or break a leg or come down with a chronic illness.  Honor the emotions that come, and then surrender to what is.  So that you can listen and support your system with nourishment, rest, and compassion.  From now on, I am choosing to see illness as an important step on my spiritual journey.  That does not mean I will be happy about it, but rather I will let the anger fuel my actions rather then build walls of resistance to healing.

Fall: A time to rest into the now

Yesterday I spent the day up in Teton National Park with my family.  We took it easy, and did so because…well we forgot my son’s shoes.  Oh yes.  We brought two extra jackets for him, but no shoes.  At first I felt my temper rise and my finger extend to blame my husband.  Of course it was HIS fault.  But in time, and with a gentle nudge from my dear friend, I settled into the reality.  We had forgotten his shoes, and therefore we were going to be taking it easy today.  We allowed him to walk barefoot, and feel the earth beneath his feet.  We even found a moment to joke about it.

Through it all, it was a nice reminder that Fall is a time to really be in the now.  To take in the fleeting golden illumination of the Aspens, and rest in sheer beauty of the Earth as it prepares for the long winter ahead.

The fall equinox is this weekend: Sunday September 21st.  Encourage yourself to move a bit slower, linger a bit longer in the woods, and settle peacefully in to exactly what IS.  For just like the golden leaves falling one by one, what ever IS will surely change.